By Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON Dec 27 President Barack Obama and
Democrats will make a major push when Congress returns Jan. 6 to
renew expired benefits for the unemployed and will seek to
pressure Republicans over the issue by painting them as uncaring
toward the middle class.
Federal unemployment benefits will officially expire for 1.3
million out-of-work Americans on Saturday. With Congress in
recess, no last-minute fix is possible.
Democrats have spent much of the holiday week criticizing
Republicans for resisting an extension of the emergency jobless
aid program, which began in 2008 under President George W. Bush
and has been extended every year since then.
The federal benefits kick in once people exhaust their
state jobless benefits, which end in many states after 26 weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to make an
extension of the benefits the top issue in his chamber when
Congress returns on Jan. 6.
The issue is part of an economic agenda aimed at winning
support from middle-class Americans. Along with the push for an
extension of unemployment insurance, Democrats will also push
for an increase in the minimum wage.
The renewal of unemployment benefits is expected to face
opposition in the Republican-led House of Representatives, but
Democrats said this week they are increasingly optimistic about
gaining political traction for the issue.
Democrats have been highlighting the personal stories of
out-of-work Americans about to be bumped off the unemployment
PLIGHT OF MOTHERS
An ad running on cable television by the liberal group
Americans United for Change accuses Republicans of putting the
interests of the wealthy above those of ordinary Americans and
spoiling Christmas for the unemployed.
Earlier this week, House of Representatives Minority Leader
Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, held a conference call with reporters
to highlight the plight of unemployed mothers.
The White House is also hammering the message.
"As the president has repeatedly made clear, it defies
economic sense, precedent and our values to allow 1.3 million
Americans fighting to find jobs to see their unemployment
insurance abruptly cut off - especially in the middle of the
holiday season," Gene Sperling, director of the White House
National Economic Council, said in a statement.
Obama, who is spending the holidays in Hawaii with his
family, on Friday telephoned Democratic Senator Jack Reed and
Republican Senator Dean Heller, the sponsors of a measure that
would temporarily extend the federal unemployment benefits.
Congressional Democrats, on the defensive over the botched
rollout of Obama's signature healthcare law, view a focus on
economic issues as a chance to improve their prospects in the
midterm congressional elections in November.
Reviving a strategy that helped Obama win re-election in
2012, Democrats plan to use Republican resistance to renewing
unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage to portray
them as insensitive to the struggles of middle- and lower-income
"The clock is ticking, not only for 1.3 million Americans
who have been looking for work for longer than six months, but
tens of thousands more who each week will lose their
unemployment insurance if House Republican leaders don't agree
to put an extension up for a vote," said Representative Sander
Levin, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Democrats have seized on a comment earlier this month from
Republican Senator Rand Paul that extending the unemployment
benefits would be a "disservice" to those out of work by giving
them less of an incentive to rejoin the workforce more quickly.
Republicans have argued that the federal unemployment
benefits were always meant to be temporary and that the program
would add to the deficit unless offset by reductions in spending
elsewhere in the budget.
"We're not going to convince (Republicans) substantively
that it's the right thing to do. We have to put political
pressure on them," said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans
United for Change.
The proposal by Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Heller, a
Nevada Republican, would extend the federal unemployment
benefits for three months.